Unwanted Osama

Nobody wants him, so he’ll hide in the cave and make videos

Dick Cheney’s four-hour trip to Islamabad, Amit Varma reminds us, “acknowledges that Pakistan wasn’t doing enough to wipe out al Qaeda to begin with, and no sensible man would expect otherwise…(and) it is not in Musharraf’s interest to end the battle with al Qaeda by winning it.”

It turns out that Musharraf is not the only one who does not want to capture Osama bin Laden. Gen Peter Schoomaker, the outgoing chief of the US army, has stated that he does not think that capturing him is all that important. (via Arms Control Otaku)

“So we get him, and then what?” asked (Gen Schoomaker) at a Rotary Club of Fort Worth luncheon. “There’s a temporary feeling of goodness, but in the long run, we may make him bigger than he is today.

“He’s hiding, and he knows we’re looking for him. We know he’s not particularly effective. I’m not sure there’s that great of a return” on capturing or killing bin Laden. [WP]

It is easy to dismiss Schoomaker’s opinion as making virtue out of failure. He does have a point—turning Bin Laden into a martyr could hand him a victory that he would find impossible making indie video films under covert Pakistani hospitality. This is true if the United States is unable to capture him alive.

Yet the United States must not be in hurry to discard the value of arresting Osama bin Laden and putting him through a credible legal process. Commitment to bring terrorists to justice is a good way of deterring would-be attackers. And allowing bin Laden to cool his heels in a prison somewhere is a good way to avoid handing him the mantle of martyrdom. But this is not even as easy as capturing the man alive.

11 thoughts on “Unwanted Osama”

  1. Nitin writes, “Commitment to bring terrorists to justice is a good way of deterring would-be attackers.”

    First time that I have read something by Nitin that I don’t agree with. (Thank god for that.)

    Islamic terrorists don’t worry about being thrown into jail or getting killed in the line of their Koranic duty to kill the infidels. Lunatics cannot be deterred, only rational people can be.

    I recall those days when you had to identify your bag on the tarmac before boarding the flight, and only then will they load the bag on the flight. The idea was that no one would want to commit suicide. But that idea does not hold any water any more. Allah’s judgement is far better in the mind of the terrorists than the judgement of some kuffar court. I don’t think that a person who is not afraid to die can be deterred through any worldly means.

  2. Atanu,

    Disagreement proves that neither of us is redundant 🙂

    First, my point about deterrence was general in nature, and not restricted to that of the jihadi and suicide varieties. (Not all terrorism is jihadi, and not all jihadi terrorism is suicidal). Non-jihadi variety, of course, is not a current concern; but deterring it should be.

    Second, commitment to bring terrorists to justice should be considered against the alternatives. Surely, lack of commitment is worse, not least because of the nature of the jihadi threat. Indeed, I would put the lack of this commitment as the principal reason why we’ve had a surge in jihadi attacks across Indian cities in the last two years.

    Third, there is a case—though I myself do not subscribe to this fully—that there is a degree of rationality even in suicide terrorism of the jihadi kind. In other words, just because they are willing to kill themselves while killing other does not necessarily imply that they are irrational. As I said, I’m not entirely convinced yet. Nevertheless, we should not rule out opportunities to exploit this angle, if there is one.


    Disagreement welcomed (again) 🙂

  3. The “would-be attackers” that Nitin is talking about need not be “lunatics” ab initio. Most of these attackers are recruited much later in life than the fairly-common belief (ever since birth). We can disagree about whether it is a “good way” (as Nitin puts it) or not, but it is a way for sure.

    Further, a person may be brainwashed to carry out a suicide attack and he might not fear death during the hours leading to the attack, but if he knows that capture can lead to other things which do not involve 72 virgins or salvation.. that would make the task of brainwashing that much more difficult.

    Or, to put it all simply: You may not be afraid to die, but you might be afraid to get caught and be kept alive in.. lets just say, not so pleasant circumstances.

  4. Here’s a representative work that argues terrorism can be deterred:

    Deterring Terrorism: It Can Be Done
    Abstract: Many scholars and policymakers argue that deterrence strategies have no significant role to play in counterterrorism. The case against deterrence rests on three pillars: terrorists are irrational; they value their political ends far above anything deterring states could hold at risk; and they are impossible tofind. Each pillar is either incorrect or its implications for deterrence have been misunderstood. Under certain conditions, deterrence is preferable to the use of force. Analysis of the structure of terrorist networks and the processes that produce attacks, as well as the multiple objectives of terrorist organizations, suggests that some deterrence strategies are more effective than those of the past. In particular, many terrorist groups and elements of terrorist support networks can likely be deterred from cooperating with the most threatening terrorist groups, such as al-Qaida. Although the use of force against multiple groups creates common interests among them, an appropriate deterrence strategy could fracture global terrorist networks. The current policy of the U.S. and Philippine governments toward the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Abu Sayyaf Group illustrates the potential of this approach and the risks of using force. Not only can groups such as the MILF be deterred from cooperating with al-Qaida, they may even be coerced into providing local intelligence on operatives linked to it. [Trager & Zagorcheva/International Security]

    The paper is behind a subscription firewall, but I will consider emailing a copy, upon request, to those who have participated in the discussion on this post.

  5. This is my first time disagreeing with Atanu, also the 129th time agreeing with Nitin.
    That said – All Jehadis are not created equal, gents.
    For every brainwashed wretch who straps on pounds of TNT on his way to spending eternity with seventy two “raisins”, there are a few not so inclined guys, dealing with logistics etc, who may very well enjoy the good life here and now.

  6. While Atanu certainly has a point, deterrence need not only mean punishing people for crimes after they have been committed. Suicide bombers are rational in the limited sense that they want to kill people as a price for their martyrdom. If you can foil their efforts, it would certainly act as a deterrent to other potential bombers.

  7. Folks, in our ideological ramblings we forgot about poor Osama. He’d a be welcome guest in a bunch of places – Gitmo, Tihar – heck lock him in Alcatraz and watch tourism to San Francisco go through the roof. Of course, in the unlikely event he went to Tihar we’d need to throw the key away to preclude folks like Jaswant kissing our “friends” and springing him free.

  8. I think subjecting jihadis to music of Christina Aguilera is a good idea. We need to check whether Geneva convention covers this.

  9. I think Nitin has a point especially only with respect to jihadi terrorism in India. You won’t find too many suicide bombers in the massacres of Mumbai or Varanasi or Shamjhuta express – they get off the train to save themselves. That’s the different between ISI trained local murderers and al-Qaeda trained British teenagers.

    I suspected Osama will be allowed to die a natural death because the Americans don’t want him to commit suicide and become a hero to the cause – Osama’s bodyguard as two bullets in his gun and Osama carries an AK-47 with him all the time. I guess it’s unlikely he will be in a hole hiding like Saddam but we also know he’s most likely to run for his life then fight.

  10. I wonder, what the reaction in the islamic-world will be, if bin Laden’s body was found and USA dispenses it in a purely “unislamic” way. I think that such a suggestion was made by a minister of Russia, after the Chechen-terrorists killed 400 children.

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